A-K Valley basketball teams seek elusive playoff wins

Monday, February 19, 2018 | 11:30 PM

Shortly after taking over as Deer Lakes boys basketball coach in 2015, Terence Parham learned how much time had elapsed since the Lancers last tasted postseason success.

The drought without a playoff victory dated back 30 years at that point, to before Parham led Shady Side Academy to eight consecutive playoff appearances as coach, before his days as an all-conference football player at Bucknell, before he starred in four sports at Shady Side Academy. The Lancers' WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal victory over Southmoreland on March 1, 1985, came when Parham was in grade school.

“(They) kind of slipped that in after the interview,” Parham said, laughing. “I think I accepted the job, and (it was), ‘Oh, by the way, we haven't won a playoff game since 1985.' So that's always kind of stuck in the back of my head, for sure.”

No. 11 Deer Lakes (12-9) will get another chance for a playoff victory Wednesday, when the Lancers face No. 6 Ambridge (12-9) at 8 p.m. at Fox Chapel. But the Lancers have plenty of company in the Alle-Kiski Valley as they look to end their postseason losing streak. Freeport (2010), Leechburg (2011), Springdale (2008) and Valley (2009) all have droughts dating back at least five seasons.

Springdale coach Seth Thompson — whose father David, ironically enough, coached Deer Lakes to its last playoff victory in 1985 — said he planned to bring up the program's 10-year gap since its last playoff victory to his players.

“I wasn't coaching there then, and these kids were in like second grade then — the oldest ones,” Thompson said. “It's not like we have a lot to do with what happened 10 years ago, and we don't have a lot to do with what mostly happened in between, except for the last couple years. But I think for the past four years, we have slowly, not exponentially, but slowly, gotten a little bit better every year.

“We've kind of been in the business of trying to end some droughts. We ended a drought two years ago of making the playoffs. Last year we ended another drought, which was having a winning season. In recent years, we've ended those two droughts, and now … let's check the (playoff win) off the list.”

Last season, a pair of girls teams ended their own playoff slumps, with Freeport winning a playoff game for the first time since 2004 and Leechburg getting its first postseason victory — ever.

It's a tricky decision for coaches to decide whether to bring up the topic with their teams, balancing whether it could provide motivation or get too much in their heads.

Leechburg's Corey Smith, who led the Blue Devils to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, doesn't plan to make it a big topic of conversation in advance of their Class 2A first-round game Tuesday against Fort Cherry.

“I don't think that's something to talk about,” Smith said. “Maybe after the point, if we win the game … so it's a good accomplishment. But I don't want to put too much pressure on them.

“The less stress is the best right now.”

It's not quite as simple at Deer Lakes, where Parham said his players know their 1980s trivia — at least on this subject. Deer Lakes is making its second consecutive WPIAL playoff appearance under Parham, but last year's game ended with a thud: a 57-31 loss to Belle Vernon.

It's the Lancers' second consecutive playoff appearance under Parham; last season's game ended with a thud, a 57-31 loss to Belle Vernon.

“It's not about just getting to the dance, it's about being productive, and being productive means getting victories,” Parham said. “We can't be a program that is just satisfied about telling people, hey, we made the playoffs two years in a row. Last year's team, I think, got kind of caught up in the moment. I think this year's seniors remember the feeling from last year, as well as some of the tough losses that we had at the end of the year. They don't want this thing to end.”

Parham, who led Shady Side Academy to the WPIAL Class AA semifinals in 2010, said the playoffs tend to be more physical, and nerves can pose a factor for players. To that end, he plans to emphasize staying in the moment, particularly to his guards.

“I need my leaders to step up,” said Smith, who played in the WPIAL semifinals with Kiski Area in 2002. “You want your leaders to be comfortable, and then your young guys will follow the lead.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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